There is, in fact, a border crisis in this country. But it’s not a crisis from waves of criminals crossing into the U.S.; it’s the crisis that the longest government shutdown in U.S. history has created over the political fight for a multi-billion-dollar border wall. This crisis has far-reaching effects that go well beyond those government workers who are missing paychecks.
The shutdown adds a new layer of stress to the lives of millions of families throughout the country. Our city, already reeling from multiple traumas of opioids, poverty, and violence — is especially vulnerable.
Most directly affected are the 800,000 federal workers who are not getting paid, the millions who rely on government services, as well as the thousands of businesses — retail, financial services, and others — that rely on those workers.
Those unpaid federal workers owe monthly mortgage and rent payment of $438 million, according to real estate website Zillow . Beyond the tangible harm of late fees, eviction, impact on credit score, or foreclosure that could come with missed payments, these workers are burdened by the uncertainty of financial instability — stress that affects their children, partners, friends, and family.
And stress especially hurts children. Parents experiencing financial instability often spend more time away from their children in an attempt to earn more money.
The rideshare company Lyft is offering TSA agents, who are working without pay, a $300 signing bonus to entice them to become drivers. TSA workers driving Lyft after a long day of work with no pay is not normal and not safe — not for the people on the road, not for the security of our airports, and not for the health of TSA agents and their families.
Those who depend on government services are also vulnerable. About 480,000 SNAP recipients live in Philadelphia — whose lives are often defined by the trauma of scarcity — now must live with the uncertainty of how long their food stamps might last, and debate whether they should start skipping meals. A large percentage of those recipients are children, and the repercussions for their health and education are dire.
Cities and states are looking for ways to help, but fast solutions could create more problems. New Jersey lawmakers proposed bills that will allow federal workers to take zero-interest loans and that ask taxing authorities to give them more time to pay. That’s a more measured solution than one proposed by Philadelphia Councilwoman Cindy Bass, who is proposing a $50 million emergency fund for federal employees to be funded from last year’s city budget surplus. Given the long timeline that bill would require, Bass' suggestion seems more like an attempt to show willingness to help rather than a practical idea. And that doesn’t even address the wisdom of appropriating $50 million to help a few thousand workers, especially in a city with such great needs.